Nas is one of those anomalies. The years have shown that he is completely immune to that creative erosion of time that seems to plague all, or almost all, humans. The more time passes, somehow the sharper he gets.
And this really does not make any sense when you consider that his debut album Illmatic is one of the greatest hip hop albums ever made. The man started at the top and somehow managed to not only stay there, but age like a fine wine… over multiple decades no less. Top of the hip hop timelessness scale.
One of his most recent strokes of genius is the coolest thing to happen in music all year, in my humble opinion. In July, he completed a track that he originally recorded in the 90s: Life is like a Dice Game. To get the job done, Freddie Gibbs and Cordae were recruited to add a verse and Hit-Boy to refresh Easy Mo Bee’s beat. Nas then wrote half a verse and boom the track was done. It took 20 years to finish, but it was worth the wait.
The original recording was leaked as a work in progress Nas was cooking up in ‘95, the year following the release of Illmatic (Nas was 22 at the time).
It’s a phenomenal example of the hip hop sounds of the times with Easy Mo Bee’s sampling of Norman Connors’ Valentine Love and Marvin Gaye’s Mercy Mercy Me. The chorus and verse both have young Nas’ talents, with that silky flow and lyrical genius, on full display.
The completed track sports a refreshed beat which brings some accelerated (but not unwelcome) bounciness. Cordae and Freddie Gibbs both stepped up massively and added some very tight and tuned in verses with some great contributions to the chorus. A prime show case of some of contemporary boom bap’s best.
By far the coolest thing about it though is Nas’ addition to his original verse (3rd in the completed track) where he tells the story of the song, right as the beat changes up following young Nas’ (in retrospect extremely fitting) predictions for the track: “When I finish this shit, its sure to be a hit”
This original recording hit the street ’round ’93
Was just a leak, the verse was incomplete, reconstructed the beat
So we can fuck up the street
Back to the future, patch up the bloopers
Match up the cadence with the back in the day shit
A blast when Nasty Nas was savvier, don’t act surprised
This ain’t for advertise or showing off, I blast for mine
Life is a dice roll, there’s money on the ground
What’s gon’ happen is gon’ happen, it’s a gamble all around